Twit­ter’s twists and turns — can the firm keep on fly­ing?

The China Post - - WORLD BUSINESS - BY BAR­BARA ORTUTAY AND BRAN­DON BAI­LEY

The Pope is on Twit­ter, along with the Dalai Lama, world lead­ers and, of course, Kim Kar­dashian.

The short-mes­sag­ing ser­vice can bring fleet­ing fame, in­stant ig­nominy and get you fired. It has been cred­ited for spark­ing rev­o­lu­tions and, like Face­book, trans­form­ing the way the world com­mu­ni­cates.

But de­spite the buzz gen­er­ated by thou­sands of chatty jour­nal­ists, ath­letes and celebri­ties, Twit­ter has never turned a profit. Its user base of 302 mil­lion is dwarfed by ri­vals such as Face­book, which counts 1.44 bil­lion.

Face­book has grown into an In­ter­net pow­er­house, while Twit­ter in many as­pects re­mains a niche so­cial net­work, un­able to con­vince the masses that they need its ser­vice to keep up with what’s hap­pen­ing in the world. Lots of peo­ple sign up but not a lot stick around.

That likely had much to do with last week’s an­nounced exit of Twit­ter Inc. CEO Dick Cos­tolo, who gave way to co-founder, and for­mer CEO, Jack Dorsey while the San Fran­cisco com­pany looks for a new leader.

De­spite the ex­ec­u­tive tur­moil and a stock price that has fallen 30 per­cent since late April, in­dus­try ex­perts — not to men­tion loyal users — see po­ten­tial in the com­pany.

But first it needs to ad­dress some of its big­gest prob­lems. Here are some of Twit­ter’s most press­ing chal­lenges, along with pos­si­ble fixes.

Where are the Users?

Its user growth is stalling and there are a lot of com­peti­tors. Be­sides its old ri­val Face­book, Twit­ter is feel­ing the heat from mo­bile mes­sag­ing apps such as What­sApp, Line and Viber, not to men­tion Snapchat, Instagram and a bevy of oth­ers only your cool mid­dle-school niece might have heard of. Twit­ter grew from 204 mil­lion ac­tive users in the first quar­ter of 2013, to 255 mil­lion a year later and 302 mil­lion in the first three months of 2015. In com­par­i­son, Face­book-owned What­sApp an­nounced in April that it has reached 800 mil­lion monthly ac­tive users.

Make it Eas­ier to Use

Al­most one bil­lion users have tried Twit­ter and not stuck around, ac­cord­ing to tech in­vestor Chris Sacca, a long­time Twit­ter backer who wrote a lengthy cri­tique of the ser­vice and posted it on­line this month. Sacca sug­gested the ser­vice could of­fer more fea­tures to en­gage vis­i­tors — in­clud­ing spe­cial chan­nels or tabs fo­cused on live events, top­ics of in­ter­est or even a user’s geo­graphic lo­ca­tion. He also rec­om­mended more “nudges,” in­clud­ing feed­back, polls and other in­ter­ac­tive fea­tures that would make new­com­ers feel less “lonely.”

Deal with Trolls

Twit­ter has long had a prob­lem with trolls, the on­line bul­lies and blowhards whose abuse has been an on­go­ing is­sue that has alien­ated es­tab­lished and po­ten­tial users. It has tried to make it eas­ier to re­port threats and in April up­dated its pol­icy against vi­o­lent threats to in­clude not just spe­cific threats but peo­ple pro­mot­ing vi­o­lence against oth­ers. It’s too early to say if this has helped.

More Apps and Op­tions

Twit­ter is well-known around the globe, but it must do more to cap­i­tal­ize on its own brand, said Brian Blau, a tech an­a­lyst at the Gart­ner re­search firm. Twit­ter could be of­fer­ing users more spe­cial­ized apps for var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties, in the way that Face­book has built a sta­ble of apps for mes­sag­ing, con­sum­ing news and shar­ing pho­tos, he said. Twit­ter’s Periscope app, which lets users share live video, is an ex­am­ple of “ex­actly the kind of thing Twit­ter should be do­ing,” Blau added. But he noted that Face­book, Snapchat and other com­pa­nies have in­vested heav­ily in di­rect-mes­sag­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, which can make money by show­ing ads, sell­ing an­i­mated adorn­ments or en­abling users to play one-on-one games. Twit­ter, mean­while, has only tin­kered around the edges of its di­rect-mes­sag­ing func­tion.

Demon­strate Strengths to

Ad­ver­tis­ers

Twit­ter knows some­thing about its users’ in­ter­ests, but Face­book knows far more about its users’ likes and habits, while Google and Pin­ter­est can more read­ily pre­dict what users might want to buy. That, cou­pled with Twit­ter’s slow­ing user growth, has made ad­ver­tis­ers are more likely to spend their money on other sites, an­a­lysts say. Twit­ter’s strength, how­ever, is drawing peo­ple’s at­ten­tion dur­ing live events, such as sports cham­pi­onships, break­ing news and popular tele­vi­sion shows, said De­bra Aho Wil­liamson at the eMar­keter re­search firm. Reach­ing ca­sual users on a rou­tine ba­sis is harder, but Twit­ter may suc­ceed if it can “en­gage ad­ver­tis­ers in that `real-time’ story,” she said.

Show In­vestors it’s Se­ri­ous

about Busi­ness

The new CEO must show Wall Street that Twit­ter is fo­cused on build­ing rev­enue and de­liv­er­ing on fi­nan­cial tar­gets, added Scott Kessler, a tech stocks an­a­lyst at S&P Cap­i­tal IQ.

“Their sin­gle big­gest short­com­ing is re­ally about the abil­ity to con­sis­tently com­mu­ni­cate and ex­e­cute against their strat­egy,” he said.

AP

This Nov. 4, 2013 file photo shows the icon for the Twit­ter app on an iPhone in San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia.

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